Friday, March 27, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 28-30

Yep, that's right, we're going three at a time now. We're in that elite of territory. Here's where we've been recently:

40. Buck Freeman, 1B/OF
39. Bruce Hurst, P
38. Ellis Kinder, P
37. Bill Dinneen, P
36. Jimmy Collins, 3B
35. Derek Lowe, P
34. Jason Varitek, C
33. Jackie Jensen, RF
32. Rico Petrocelli, SS/3B
31. Johnny Pesky, SS

We're into the top 30!

(I feel like Ryan Seacreast.)

30. Bill Lee
He called his manager a gerbil. He threw an eephus pitch in a World Series game. He talked candidly to the press about marijuana use. He threw a hissy fit in the locker room over, in theory, school-district busing. (Really, of course, it was to distract writers from the way the Red Sox were playing at the time.) He walked out on his team following the trade of a friend.

"Do you realize that this country gave away the (expletive) Panama Canal yesterday," utilityman Bob Bailey said after Lee cleaned out his locker to protest the release of Bernie Carbo, "but Bill Lee is on the front pages?"

"Spaceman" spent plenty of time on the front pages in his 10 seasons with the Red Sox -- but most of the time it was because he just kept winning games. He won 17 games in 1973, 1974 and 1975; his 94 wins in a Red Sox uniform ranks him 13th in team history, and he'd be even higher on the list if he wasn't a reliever for the first four seasons of his career. (Oh, and if Graig Nettles hadn't dropped him on his shoulder in 1976.)

He made two starts in the 1975 World Series -- but not the one start he wanted. He took a lead into the ninth inning of Game 2, but the Reds rallied for a win behind a double from Johnny Bench, a Davey Concepcion single and a Ken Griffey double. Lee will insist to this day that he should have started a rain-delayed Game 6 -- but he also concedes in his book that had he started, "the Series wouldn't have been as great as it was. That sixth game was something else."

He then drew the start in Game 7. Before the game, Cincinnati manager Sparky Anderson declared about ace Don Gullett, "I don't know about that fellow for the Red Sox, but, sometime after this game, my boy's going to the Hall of Fame." Lee shot back, "I don't care where Gullett's going because after this game, I'm going to the Eliot Lounge."

The Red Sox ended up losing that game thanks in large part to a slow curveball that Tony Perez crushed over the Green Monster. When Lee left the game, the Red Sox were ahead by a 3-2 score; the Reds then tied it on a Pete Rose single in the seventh and a Joe Morgan single in the top of the ninth.

Gullett was long gone by then, knocked out after four innings. He did not go to the Hall of Fame. Lee, we can safely assume, did indeed go to the Eliot Lounge.

29. Dom DiMaggio
Overshadowed his entire career by his more famous older brother, there still is no shame in being the second-best DiMaggio in baseball history. Dom, in fact, had a higher batting average and scored more runs than the Yankee Clipper in 1946, the one season that he (and not Joe) played center fielder for the American League's representative in the All-Star Game. He also had more putouts per game in center field (2.81 to 2.62) and more outfield assists per year (14.7 to 11.8) than his starlet-dating older brother.

Nicknamed "The Little Professor" thanks to his size (5-foot-9) and his glasses, Dom DiMaggio was a doubles machine; he hit at least 30 doubles seven times in his 10 seasons with the Red Sox. He also hit .300 four times and scored 100 runs six times, He hit .316 with 24 doubles in the World Series season of 1946, and he scored 127 and 126 runs, respectively, in the near-miss seasons of 1948 and 1949.

More importantly, though, he was a sensational center fielder.

Range factor remains an outlaw stat these days, but the premise is fairly simple -- if you assume that over a large sample size, the ball is hit pretty much all over the place, you can judge a fielder's range by how many times he gets to the ball. The formula is put-outs plus assists divided by games played. Just for context, the speedy Carlos Gomez led all big-league center fielders last season with a range factor of 3.15; two years ago, Coco Crisp was tops among center fielders with a range factor of 3.07.

Heck, Willie Mays had a range factor of 3.02 in 1951 and 3.05 in 1953, but that was as high as he'd ever get. His career range factor in center field was 2.48.

Got all that?

Well, Dom DiMaggio's career range factor was 2.92. In 1947, it was 3.22. In 1948, it was 3.33.

And if you remember the Johnny Pesky story from a day or two ago: DiMaggio had pulled a muscle and been lifted from the game, leaving reserve Leon Culberson in center field. Enos Slaughter said later that he never would have tried to score from first had DiMaggio been the one in center field; it's altogether possible that the ball never even would have hit the ground had DiMaggio been playing center field.

28. Harry Hooper
The winner of more World Series titles (four) than any player in Red Sox history, Hooper played in 1,647 games with the Red Sox -- a record that would stand until Bobby Doerr broke it late in the 1949 season. He also orchestrated the first strike in baseball history -- one that lasted just an hour or so but one that also cost him a chance to get his hands on his fourth World Series medallion.

In the years leading up to 1918, players had shared 60 percent of gate receipts from the first four games of the series; the total usually amounted to $3,000 or $4,000. In 1918, though, owners decided that players would share 55.25 percent of those gate receipts -- but that only 60 percent of that (or just over 33 percent overall) would go to the World Series teams. The other 40 percent (or just over 22 percent overall) would go to the second-, third-, and fourth-place teams in each league. The owners gave up nothing; the players, on the other hand, were taking a pay cut of almost 50 percent. On top of that, American League president Ban Johnson ordered each player in the World Series to donate 10 percent of his share to World War I charities.

The players balked. Hooper, a 31-year-old veteran of three previous World Series, joined with a representative from the Cubs to protest to Johnson and the "National Commission," the committee in charged of distribution of World Series proceeds. Meetings early in the series achieved nothing, as the commission tried to convince the players its hands were tied by the owners.

But before Game 5, the two teams decided to strike. Hooper and three other players met with Johnson and two commissioners under the grandstand to come to a settlement; the players quickly discovered, though, that Johnson in particular was too drunk to discuss anything. When Johnson started waxing poetic about playing for the soldiers in the stands, Hooper and his fellow players had no choice but to relent.

All they could do was ask that their actions not be held against them -- but even that part of compromise went ignored. Johnson refused to award the Red Sox with the medallions that had been awarded to every previous World Series champion. Hooper petitioned every baseball commissioner until his deathi n 1974; his son kept up the crusade until 1993, when the Red Sox awarded the medallions in a ceremony at Fenway Park.

Coming up: The Monster.

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